Ballroom Dance > Problems as couple learning dance

Discussion in 'Ballroom Dance' started by Jongleur9418, Aug 5, 2013.

  1. Jongleur9418

    Jongleur9418 Member

    You have heard from my wife before about her issues with learning dance, but now I’m writing to ask for perspectives on how to handle the differences in our talents, learning rates and ambitions.

    We are a couple who have been learning American ballroom for about two years. (When we started, I thought I could never learn and she thought it would take a few weeks!) We take private and group lessons together, and attend many parties and dances both in and out of the studio as well. In addition I usually spend an hour or so a day working on patterns and music listening. Our objective has been to dance socially with a higher level of techniques. While both of us are passionate about our new hobby, we are often frustrated with problems and issues:

    We started at the beginning level together but my wife is obviously ahead of me while I am struggling mainly with timing, navigation and many other details. As a couple, the studio has wanted to keep us together in our progress, so she has become dissatisfied with the progress. She started to take lessons by herself on international style. But I’m struggling to remember to listen to the music while figuring out what to dance, so adding more dances seems really counterproductive to me. We still dance together at my level but there is often a lot of tension. I want to repeat patterns when we dance and she typically wants to dance not repeat patterns but have them be better than I often manage. It’s clear that I set the rate of progress for our dancing and I am not a quick learner in this area leading to a lot of frustration on her part. She has now found it frustrating that she has learned more advanced international dances but has no one to dance them with. But, I've really tried very hard and don’t see how I can go faster. I am concerned about our original goal -- dancing together as a couple, though it is still a goal for both of us.

    We have watched other couples dealing with the same issue: one couple ended up with the man finally dropping out, and the lady became a pro-am competitive dancer. Another couple, while they still dance together, have had the woman take lessons for competitive dancing with pro partners. We know several couples where they dance very well socially, though without the polish that we have come to appreciate. And of course we have known couples that just dropped out.

    Do you have any thoughts or suggestions about how to deal with this disparity in learning speeds without her going the pro-am route? Thank you in advance!
  2. fascination

    fascination Site Moderator Staff Member

    I think that she simply needs to be more patient...period...part of getting better is being more patient with those who aren't as advanced....the better she gets the better she SHOULD get at that...and the truth is, she wouldn't be as frustrated with anyone else(least not obviously), nor would she appreciate a teacher being overtly frustrated with her...while frustration is normal, handling it well is part of the game
    FishyOne, twnkltoz, bia and 1 other person like this.
  3. opendoor

    opendoor Well-Known Member

    Hi Jongleur, think you might have got that I spoke out all risks instantly, but your wife closed her eyes right from the beginning and made me the bogeyman. So finally I´m at a loss.
    Jongleur9418 likes this.
  4. Smooth Dancer

    Smooth Dancer Active Member

    Get a good private instructor that can work with you both on these issues. Discuss the issues up front.

    Steer away from "social" dancing with its (typically) relaxed style. Both of you should be doing Standard with its insistence on competitive styling. A great frame and a few basics of movement cures a lot of ills. And forget piling on new "steps." Aim to dance beautifully by learning the basics of style found in the basic patterns.

    To your wife, from our experience, it really is worth the pain and agony of developing that "special" partner.

    And by the way, competing in USA Dance competitions. See you (both) there!
    Jongleur9418 likes this.
  5. madmaximus

    madmaximus Well-Known Member

    Very simple solution, IMO.

    Change your learning routine: switch roles.

    For the time being, devote your lessons and your time in the other person's role---gent dances the lady's part, lady dances the gent's part---and have her REALLY learn the part (meaning you get to dance as lady as frequently as possible: during practice, socials, etc...).

    The disparity comes from the magnitude of what a gent needs to learn early on in order to "just dance on the floor"---the lady has the luxury of not needing that (timing, musicality, lead, leading expression, navigation, etc...).

    The friction, impatience, frustration, etc... on your partner's part comes from NOT realizing the magnitude of what that entails.

    Exchanging roles this way has 3 advantages at least:
    • Shows how difficult the man's part is (in a way that's different from how difficult the lady's part is)---and shows how much time it takes to master what the man needs to master.
    • Dancing the lady's part allows you to examine what the lady needs to feel or be led into, so you can improve your lead.
    • Allows both of you to start over from the beginning, but in the other person's shoes---lets the relationship take a breather, instead of going down a destructive route.
    The lady's part is no easier than the man's---in terms of what she needs to learn to dance---but there is less to master, so mastery comes faster to her.


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  6. freeageless

    freeageless Active Member

    Wow. Very impressive post! I agree.
    chomsky likes this.

    JANATHOME Well-Known Member

    ahh, something I can speak too. I danced with my husband I think 15 years and our main focus was priviate lessons and competitions. We did little to no group classes or socials after our first year of dancing. At the end of the day nothing is more important than your relationship... You know, when that dance lesson or practice is over you still have to get in the same car and go home together. Our best rule, never leave the studio angry and if we felt we were getting to that point, off came the shoes and we went home. There is always tomorrow.... If we could not resolve our differences we would also put that down, work on something else and bring it to our instructor to sort it out for us.

    I think dancing together actually improved our relationship. We learned early on not to offend each other and there were many times I held back from what I wanted to say and saved these conversations when it was really important to me, something bothering me so much that I was willing to approach it with him. I was and he was always careful with our words... I am sure this is why we danced together for 15 years, we learned how to respect each others feelings at a much higher level.

    We decided together what dances and style of dances we would work on and worked on them together.
    We did not work on tons of different styles.
    Never did either of us do pro/am. (when my husband had hip problems and could not dance, then I went to pro/am with his support.)

    My husband learned faster than me , especially in rhythm and at times he would look at the ladies part and help me through it. It did not offend me, I appreciated it.

    We never heard the music the same, and as the follower I followed his lead thought I did not like it!!

    Should your wife go the pro am route she will only become more frustrated with your dancing skills. She will start to compare you to the pro which is unfair.
    Either you find a way to work on this together or each go your own pro/am way... Others may disagree with me but I don't think pro/am strengthens a am/am relationship, I think it hurts it. You have to struggle through it and grow from it.

    I hope you can find the balance and the joy as I did dancing with my spouse.
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  8. Jongleur9418

    Jongleur9418 Member

    Hi, this is "she" speaking! Thank you for all your posts!

    This is actually a thread from both of us, and we would like to, as we did in the past, learn from you, the more experienced dancers on the forum.

    Fascination, that is very wise advice! To me, frustration is not an atitude, rather, it is a barrier I am learning to deal with.

    Thank you for the beautiful words, and I shall always remember it! As usual, your advices are very helpful. While competing is not on our schedule yet, we will start trying the standart together. (actually tonight, I convinced my husband to take international Foxtrot with me)

    I actually did some before as requested by the teacher. No fun! But well worth it!

    Back to the very beginning, I am the one pulled my husband into this. In order words, this is not his comfortable zone and he is doing this for me. In the past two years, I know how much efforts he has made to improve his stills. I don't think I can find a better partnar in this regarding. So, it is the last thing in the world that I want to discourage him to continue dancing with me.

    So, please feel free to give your comments and suggestions. Is anyone there actually passing through this difficult period and survived as a couple dancers?
    FishyOne likes this.
  9. Jongleur9418

    Jongleur9418 Member

    This is very touching story! I liked every word of it. We will talk about the points you made here and write back again! Thanks a lot!
  10. UMASSshoesandcostumes

    UMASSshoesandcostumes Active Member

    Although I can't speak to having danced with a romantic partner I can speak to the fact that I learn material faster than my partner as well which is definitely hard as a follower. When he doesn't know his footwork well enough yet to incorporate the leads as fully as he will later it's difficult to learn to follow it. I started out in intensive ballet, so coming into ballroom I already knew how to learn material and quickly. My partner never had that kind of experience, and while he was more advanced in terms of ballroom dance than I was when we started our partnership his partnerships prior to me had been much less serious and so even what he knew was often somewhat shaky. It worked out really great in the beginning when he was relearning material as I learned it the first time, but once we got into new material it started really showing how much faster I learn material. Admittedly as a competitive partnership vs a social dancing couple maybe it's a little different, but I hope I can help.
    A couple things that help me deal with this without becoming impatient:
    -He's very firm about not letting me backlead things, even when I know them better than he does. If he feels me go automatically he will stop and make us do the pattern again from the beginning so that I'm really paying attention to what he's doing regardless of how well he does it. When he's first learning something his leads won't be fantastic so I have to really focus to make sure I feel the weight shift or whatever piece is supposed to make everything happen. It keeps me occupied and makes me focus less on the fact that I'm bored with the material, and more on trying to work on our partnership, which is always productive. When I'm really trying to tune into his leads I can also help him through it much more than I can when I'm just going through the motions because I know them-- I can say "I think that this is where that's supposed to be originating" or "try doing it differently here, I think that might help both of us"
    -Think about what you can be doing for your dancing independently as he's working on the moves themselves-- how's your hip action? Your Frame? Are you doing heel leads? Are you properly grounded? Where's your weight? What are my arms doing? What is my head doing? Can I be using my weight more effectively than I currently am? There's always something you can be thinking about doing differently, something that you can be improving on even when your partner is trying to work on something different (my go-to arm styling for Fan Hockeystick was developed this way-- my partner was concerned about his hip action in Fan Hockeystick so he was doing them over and over and over again. We had a space with mirrors and I knew that my arms were often awkward doing it, so I decided to just play with them while he was working on his hip action. It was funny because I started getting so involved playing with my arms that I didn't notice he started leading them even more frequently and started watching me instead of working on what he was working on. He finally stopped us and says "You're about 2 seconds from getting the sex appeal you always should have had doing that move. I'm going to try leading it a few more times, get the timing right on that arm styling, do it that way every time and your half of our fan hockeystick will already be about 50 times better." You can make big jumps in your own dancing just from repetition even if what your partner is doing isn't changing too much.)
    -Also, think about what else you can be working once he masters it. So if we're repeating a phrase so that we can get through it accurately, I'll already be thinking about what exactly our interaction should be in the move. Where should I be getting something different from our connection? With those arms that I was working on for myself just now-- what could his arms be doing that could be effective to compliment that? How can we make and break eye contact in this phrase to make it more effective? Is there a way to play with the timing that would improve things? What kind of shaping can we do with this phrase to make it our own instead of just dancing through it? If you start looking for these things they will come to you and you can make a mental list of what exactly you want to be looking at once the basic phrase is mastered.
    -A lot of times my partner also will send me off to keep myself occupied if he's having real problems with the footwork-- footwork is a lot easier to master without a second person, and often he'll even use me as a second set of eyes to tell him when he's doing something wrong-- he'll say "This is what it's supposed to look like." And once we narrow down exactly what's tripping him up it's much easier to fix it. If he doesn't want the second set of eyes I'll put on some music and run the part up to tempo by myself and make sure I can do it and start integrating technique on it if I can while it's up to tempo.

    I hope this has helped a little and best of luck. And remember, a partnership is much like a marriage-- you guys are on the same team, you aren't competing with one another to learn material faster, you're supposed to be helping each other along. If you keep your attitude more focused on dancing as a "we" thing instead of two separate parts as a leader and a follower it might help.
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  11. Warren J. Dew

    Warren J. Dew Well-Known Member

    I'd suggest that if the two members of the couple are progressing at different rates, it's the one progressing slower, not the one progressing faster, that needs extra training. So, instead of her going the pro-am route, I'd suggest that it might be better if you were the one who took some supplementary pro-am lessons. In the pro-am lessons you can focus on one thing at a time; for example, if you need to focus on the footwork, a good female instructor should be able to follow you and even help keep you on time without your having to concentrate on your lead.

    Keep your couples lessons as well, of course, as well as your practice and actual social dancing.
    chomsky likes this.
  12. Smooth Dancer

    Smooth Dancer Active Member

    Nice. But I would caution foxtrot as an intro to standard. We've been learning standard (waltz, quickstep, and to a lesser degree tango) for 2 years and are just now trying to tackle foxtrot. According to our instructor it is the hardest, and that has certainly been our experience. Also, it works poorly on most social floor because it takes so much space. If you do eventually decide to compete (you should!) you'll likely start at bronze with W & QS and not get to foxtrot until silver. I would recommend waltz as a starter, although for various reasons our instructor says tango can be a good place to start. In any, case have a good discussion with your group/private instructor. I would hate to see hubby discouraged by a too-demanding dance.

    However, you might want to get a few other forum opinions on this, as this is only our experience.
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  13. danceronice

    danceronice Well-Known Member

    If you're dealing with frustration with learning curves, on the one hand, Int. Foxtrot would be the worst possible dance in the entire world to pick next. It's the hardest of the 19 to most people. If husband-OP is struggling now, FT is not going to help at all.

    OTOH, as wife-OP might find herself struggling helplessly it might give her some sense of what he's going through in term of learning blocks and frustration because for most people it's usually years of those before even feels halfway comfortable.
    Jongleur9418 likes this.
  14. Bailamosdance

    Bailamosdance Well-Known Member

    I say let the former responder learn Int'l Foxtrot. It will be a sobering experience and she will have renewed respect for her hub as she attempts to do this.

    The common wisdom is to have beginners do things that are easily mastered so they stay with it, but this is not really this situation. Perhaps W / T / F /Q as a whole should be worked on, and over time the advantages will be a new understanding of movement...
  15. danceronice

    danceronice Well-Known Member

    I do think it might be hard on the husband, though. But yeah, as I said, she might need the progress check to see what it feels like to not have it come easily.

    And I do not get the whole 'wait years to start it.' I know some other studios do it where bronze students only learn the three in their scholarships, then silver adds another, etc. but both places I've danced my pros want me to do all five (four in smooth). NP put it "I don't like being seen walking off the floor for bolero and mambo." And honestly with Int. Fox the sooner you start, the more you can practice and since it needs a lot....
  16. dncergrl

    dncergrl Active Member

    Big disclaimer: This solution would not work for everyone. My husband and I are at vastly different levels. I planned on a dance career and he struggles to hear the beat of the music and walk in time. That's ok, there are plenty of things I struggle with, that he can do well. For decades we went through many rounds of failed "beginner" dance classes where I got screamed at for leading. But standing there waiting for a lead, stressed out and embarrassed hubby +++ and frustrated and embarrassed me. Finally, I found a teacher who encourages me to back lead. The first time pro said to me, "help him", I wanted to cry with happiness. So pro teaches me how to back lead better and now we are getting somewhere. Also in our beginner classes, I learn hubby's steps and work on tech at the same time so I am never bored even in the most beginner class. I strongly believe the essence of dance is about joy, expression and connection not the "steps". When we dance socially, who cares if the steps are wrong or if you go the wrong way? When I work with my pro, it is a different kettle of fish. But for me, bouncing a baby on my hip to music or jumping around in a quasi cha-cha with hubby brings me as much joy as working on a gold or open routine with pro, maybe more, because the pro work is work. Took some convincing, but hubby believes me because he does the same. He does lots of things at a higher level than me. When we play tennis, he goes easy on me but then off he goes with the big boys to play full out. I admire his tennis skill with his friends and I think he is proud of me as a dancer.
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  17. novemberecho

    novemberecho Member

    I think in addition to lots of great advice above, you might enjoy the book "Ballroom Dancing is not for Sissies." It is all about the challenges of partnership in dancing (and applies to everything in life as well, imo), neatly organized into bronze, silver, and gold sections. It does a great job addressing issues particular to adult couples learning to dance, the apparent gaps in learning lead and follow roles, and inspiring a mutual respect between partners. I dance pro/am so it's sort of a one-sided approach for me (vs. an equal partnership), but I've still found it incredibly valuable.
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  18. Jongleur9418

    Jongleur9418 Member

    Wow! Clearly this is an issue that draws a lot of folk’s attention. Thanks for your many very considered and knowledgeable comments. I’m the guy and I’d like to say first that I wrote the original post with my wife’s encouragement even though she expected that the responses might not be favorable to her as much of the problem is a result of her ambitions and expectations. We’re evaluating all the suggestions and thinking about it.

    I’ve ordered the book "Ballroom Dancing is not for Sissies" and also one by Don Baarns (music4dancers) on partner dancing.

    Actually, for the moment things seem better in that today we had an evaluation at the studio we go to and they really worked on her to not backlead, just to follow my timing. They ended up having us do Rumba with her eyes closed and following my timing. The result was that our timing together was a lot better than when two of us were trying to lead it. Everything just worked much better and she agrees in amazement. So I’m greatly encouraged. I’m sure this isn’t the end of issues, but it feels like a big chunk right now.

    On the international foxtrot I did go to the beginning class. The steps were not difficult for me, but clearly giving the slows and quicks their proper timing along with keeping the dance fluid is something that takes a lot of time. It's not really something I have a lot of ambition to do as I enjoy American foxtrot a lot with its more varied patterns and it's our best dance.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
  19. fascination

    fascination Site Moderator Staff Member

    when I was an intermediate dancer and my husband was a beginner, I remember being anxious and impatient for him to catch up because I was eager to show off...not proud of that ...just admitting I improved, I began to realize that a) I was hurting him and b) I no longer felt a need to dance for admiration, I possessed something that I had worked hard for and those skills were there, I didn't need to show them to their maximum all of the time
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  20. billman

    billman Active Member

    My turn!! lol :) My fiance and i have been dancing together for over 2 years. She had some international Latin background when we met. ( I am a Smooth and Rhythm dancer). When we told both her coach and my coach we wanted to partner for competition... Wow!! They both were really against it. I had 4 years in my style and they thought my coach would have to "dumb down" the lessons for her.
    That really ticked her off! (Me to), So we decided to become the best Smooth dancers at the studio! (a work still in progress! lol) We practiced our rearends off and with a lot of encouragement from me, she is now ready to move to Silver with me in Smooth.
    Her training in Latin seemed to help her a lot when she switched to Rhythm. There are times it seems like she is ahead of me! :D
    What worked for us was a common goal of getting ready for competition and to prove our coaches wrong. (My coach has already admitted that she "caught up"). We practice a lot and in the beginning, I was a little bored. But I took that time to work on details. When we practiced on our own... I became the coach. And yes... we have switched roles a few times just to mix things up. (I am a really bad follower! lol)
    The other thing we have done is to leave our dance lessons on the floor. Once we are done with a coaching session or practicing... we are done. No sense that any frustration from the dance floor home with you.
    I hope this helps!
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